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Settlement erases some of Aubrey McClendon estate debts
By KEN MILLER
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) Chesapeake Energy Corp. withdrew its claim for more than $455 million against the estate of late Oklahoma City energy magnate Aubrey McClendon as part of a settlement of a lawsuit that alleged McClendon had stolen trade secrets when he left Chesapeake in 2013.
Under the deal, Chesapeake stopped its effort to collect undisclosed compensation and benefits previously paid to McClendon and agreed to pay $3.5 million for legal fees and other services. His estate waived any claim to unpaid compensation and rights to benefits that include stock and use of a corporate jet.
An Oklahoma City probate judge signed off the deal Thursday.
He died in a 2016 vehicle crash after a federal grand jury indicted him for allegedly conspiring to rig bids to buy oil and natural gas leases.
Several other claims remain against McClendon's estate. Here's a look at his estate and issues surrounding it:
The agreement settled Chesapeake's 2015 lawsuit against McClendon, who left the company he founded over differences with a new board of directors.
The lawsuit alleged he used stolen trade secrets to benefit a new company he formed, American Energy Partners LP.
During a less than 15-minute hearing, an attorney for the estate, Amy Sine, outlined the agreement. Chesapeake attorney Murray Abowitz expressed his support.
"I have read the order and I endorse it," Abowitz said.
Both Sine and Abowitz later declined comment on the case.
Numerous claims against the estate remain. The largest is a $464.3 million claim by Williams Trust, National Association, for loans secured by McClendon. Court documents show an undisclosed amount of the trust's claim was rejected by the executor of McClendon's estate, Tom Blalock, in August.
HOW MUCH IS HE WORTH?
Laura Zwicker, an estate-planning attorney and partner at Greenberg Glusker in Los Angeles, who is not associated with any of the claims against the estate but has followed the matter, said McClendon was once estimated to have a net worth of more than $1 billion. But claims by creditors may wipe that out, Zwicker said.
"His obligations may be over a billion (dollars), so his net worth may be close to zero," Zwicker said.
Many of the details of the claims are not known, either filed under seal or redacted from court filings.
McClendon owned about 20 percent of the NBA's Oklahoma City Thunder, an asset creditors have said may be among his most valuable. His share would be worth about $200 million, based on a Forbes estimate in February that the team is worth $1.025 billion.
Creditors, including Wilmington Trust, expressed concern during a May 2016 hearing that McClendon's ownership stake could be sold to a family member at less than market value, according to a court transcript obtained by The Oklahoman.
Estate attorney Martin Stringer said then that the Thunder interest was not for sale.
An attorney for McClendon's widow and adult children did not return a call seeking comment.
McClendon used his stake in the Thunder to secure a loan from Oaktree Capital Management, which filed a claim for $87 million. Oaktree laid claim to the Thunder ownership until the sale of certain oil and gas leases satisfied the claim.
McClendon was known as a generous supporter of various charitable organizations and many of their claims have been rejected, including the Boy Scouts of America and the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation.
The Boy Scouts said it would not pursue its claim while the Reagan Foundation remains a party to the probate case.
Also, Duke University filed a claim in August for $9.9 million McClendon had pledged to various projects at his alma mater, but then withdrew it.
"Charities sort of need to rely on the pledges their donors make. On the other hand, when charities go into court when someone dies to enforce a pledge ... people view it more negatively than Oaktree coming in and saying we loaned money to you and we want our money back," Zwicker said.
McClendon, 56, crashed into a concrete bridge embankment at nearly 89 mph in March 2016, a day after being indicted by a grand jury.
Investigators found that McClendon drove straight into a wall without correcting, but there was no conclusive evidence that he intentionally drove into the wall, according to Oklahoma City Police Capt. Paco Balderrama. McClendon left nothing behind that could be construed as a suicide note, Balderrama said.
Updated March 11, 2017